It has been a year of massive political and personal setbacks for the once formidable PML-N. The once imperious party leadership has been upended in the wake of the Panama-Avenfield Judgement and internal divisions have also resulted in the party losing major political heavyweights to other parties.
While the party’s regime has been defined by political upheavals and theatrics, , its tenure will tragically be linked with economic regression, where Pakistan’s external debt liabilities have soared to a record $91.8 billion, consequently devaluating the rupee for a third time, exacerbating foreign reserves, increasing dependence on Chinese bilateral loans and a second IMF bailout in five years. Missing the target of 4 percent growth, the agri-sector sector's performance under the party remained dismal throughout, failing at the end of the tenure. However, by keeping wheat support price stable and the 2015 Kisaan Package, it was able to reduce food price inflation. The government did consistently improve the tax-to-GDP ratio, but still wasn't able to achieve what it promised in its manifesto. The budget for the Prime Minister’s Office had to be revised and increased each year. While the government initiated several coal-fired plants as well as plans for renewable energy, the deficit could not be effectively remedied. Yet significant steps in Zarb-e-Azab, legal support for those actively fighting against terrorists and the activation of the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) have been lauded.
So what’s next for the buffeted party? Where the beleaguered polity has suffered a protracted battering, the party leadership’s contingency plan remains salvaging PML-N support among the masses till the party re-amalgamates. The return of the ousted ex-premier to ‘suffer the verdict in the name of democracy’ along with his daughter, was an evocative trump card. Cultivating their platform on this anti-status-quo narrative, the party will earn back some lost ground. The Sharifs still have to fight a long legal and political battle, leaving Shehbaz Sharif to steer the party. While the military/judiciary’s aversion toward the party’s leadership culminated in loosening the party’s role in national politics, PML-N still remains relatively strong in terms of electoral politics as demonstrated by gained numbers in Punjab, where it has attained an adequate number of National Assembly (NA) seats to become part of any negotiations to form the next government. The PML-N has tough days ahead, yet now needs to bid its time, reorganise and perform as an effective opposition in face of censure and antagonism.